Search Term Tricks
Learning how to use Google and library databases well takes some time. The words students enter into Google or a database make a difference. Here are some tips to help make their searches more fruitful.
1. Have them think about the main idea or key concepts in their research project. Are they going to write about British imperialism in India or the impact of zebra mussels on shipping? Finding a solid thesis statement or inquiry question before beginning research is helpful to ensure the topic is not too broad.
2. Build a list of terms that are related to the topic. Using the zebra mussels example above, this might include shipping, lakes, rivers, invasive species, Great Lakes, Hudson River, population decline, pipe damage, ship damage. A straight list or a mind map could work for brainstorming.
3. Take those terms and plug them into a search engine or database. Here are some search tricks students might not know about:
- use quotations marks for phrases so the search keeps them together. Example: "zebra mussel"
- use an asterisk to locate word variations and synonyms. Example: invasive*
- use and, or, or not to combine terms. Example: "Great Lakes" AND "zebra mussels"
4. Ask for help. School and public librarians are masters at keyword searches and can help students build their skills. Classroom teachers are another good resource. Especially when they are first learning this skill, it is vital that students get help from someone who is well-versed in research.
Learning how to craft excellent search terms takes time. The important pieces to remember are being specific with keywords and trying different combinations of phrases and words to come up with the best results.